Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Lulendo

Lulendo
Lulendo

Lulendo was born in Maquela do Zombo, in the province of Uige in Angola. His musical initiation was twofold there: in Luanda, where he grew up, he used to sing in choirs, and in Maquela do Zombo, his grandfather taught to him the bakongo traditions and rituals as well as the practice of the likembe instrument.

In 1982, he moved to Paris where he became a studio and stage backing vocalist. In 1993, he started his own band and he recorded his debut album ‘A qui profite le crime?’ in 2000.

Discography:

A qui profite le crime? (Nola Musique / Buda Musique, 2000)
Angola (Buda Musique, 2006)
Live Sessions (2007)
Soul of Africa (2007)

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Artist Profiles: Gato Bedseyele

Gato Bedseyele
Gato Bedseyele

Gato Bedseyele was forced to flee Angola in 1986 and now lives in Belgium. A founding member of the Angolan group Afra Sound Stars, he left his war-torn country with just $50 USD in his pocket after deserting the army.

Gato had been forcibly recruited several times, the first time aged 12. Believing he was wasting his life, he headed to Brazil, Portugal and then Belgium.

He struggled in exile. “Music has allowed me to survive. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

A songwriter and multi-faceted musician, Gato sings in Portuguese, French, Kikongo and several other languages. He has made several albums, and played with Brazilian star Gilberto Gil, and Angolans Bonga and Felipe Mukenga.

He had hoped to study, “to become somebody, maybe a journalist or a lawyer“. Now Gato wants to see refugee children complete their studies and ‘have dreams for the future“.

The hardships an immigrant faces in a new country include integration, long working hours, xenophobia. A new immigrant looks for work to earn money and send it back to the family he left behind.

He is now part of the Sairy Band, a group formed by African musicians from many different countries led by Malagasy musician Miary Lepiera.

Discography:

Absaite, with Afra Sound Stars (Soproson DCD1022, 1993)

Refugee Voices-Building Bridges (2001)

Acordar (2005)

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Artist Profiles: Derito

Derito
Derito
Helder Tavares, better known as Derito, was born in Angola, in the city of Benguela, and now lives in Portugal.

The author, composer, singer and guitar player, began performing in 1977, in Benguela (Angola), and in October of 1985 began a professional career in Lisbon.

Derito performed throughout Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, Namibia and various European countries.

In July of 1995 Derito’s first solo album, Saudade, came out. It was the consummation of his dream.

In October of 1996 Derito released his second solo CD, Alison. His band Tropicalyssimos changed to Kissange (typical musical instrument from Africa). The group consists of drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, bass, keyboard, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and two female singers and dancers.

Derito’s experience performing for TV outlets prompted him to compile a video tape, presented at EXPO-98 in Lisbon.

Recantos de Angola is a collection of the best compositions of his two CDs, incorporating images of the rare Angolan beauty. Derito is the Angolan artist with more videos in the market, and that contributed to the quality of the compilation. He won the video of the year awards with the composition “Intumba” from his second CD Alison.

Derito & Kissange is a innovative project in the Luso-African artistic medium, with a cultural proposal distinct, based on the preservation of the musical basis from Africa, looking for an approximation to the universals standards, without compromising the origin.

The recording of his third CD, was made in Portugal, South Africa, Brazil, France and USA, between August of 2001 and November of 2003.

Discography:

Saudade (1995)
Alison (1996)
Recantos de Angola (2004)
Discernment (2007)

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Artist Profiles: Bonga

Bonga
Bonga

Bonga is one of Africa’s most inspirational musicians and part of the rare type of artists whose art derives its power from social and political upheaval. This Angolan legend recorded his first albums during his country’s struggle for freedom from Portuguese rule in the early 1970s. He has earned his place along side artists such as Fela Kuti, Thomas Mapfumo and Miriam Makeba as an advocate of the independence of Africa.

Angola 74, Bonga’s second album, was recorded during his exile from Angolan and Portuguese authorities. Much like Angola 72, Bonga’s first record, Angola 74 was dedicated to those who fought for freedom in Angola. Bonga’s first two recordings breathed new life into traditional Afro-Portuguese musical expression and opened the door for ancient ideas from Angola’s past to become revitalized ideals for the future. For many years Angolan’s had ignored or suppressed their native music as the effects of a colonial mentality wore on traditional music it faded from popularity.

Bonga’s main music style, semba, has ancient roots and served as the foundation for samba when it was exported to Brazil via the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. A lilting and engaging form of music, semba blends drums, scrapers, rattles and other percussion with the melodies and strings of Portugal.

Angola 74 is elegantly sparse, using minimum instrumentation and achieving maximum results. In later years Bonga expanded his lineup incorporating more horns and electric instruments experimenting with new sounds and methods of creating music. Angola 74, like Angola 72, represents the invigorating purity and subtlety of expression in Bonga’s early work and serves as a clear affirmation that in many case’s less is undeniably more.

Bonga’s personal history is strewn with triumph and tragedy. Born 1943, he grew up in a working class community on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola’s capital. At birth he was given the Portuguese name Barcelo de Carvalho but changed it to his traditional Angolan name as he grew into a stronger political consciousness. Barcelo de Carvalho became a national hero. A gifted runner he was the 400-meter champion of the Portuguese national team, as well as a soccer star on Lisbon’s Benfica squad.

During this time however, Portuguese officials did not fail to notice that his fermenting political resistance had started to sweeten throughout his rise as a sports hero. Just before Bonga recorded his first album he was forced into exile settling first in The Netherlands and later moving between other European cities for a number of years. His music became a rallying cry for his people and a symbol of resistance. The lyric speaks of literal emancipation while the music symbolized the need for cultural pride.

Angolan independence was achieved in 1975 and Bonga finally returned to his homeland. The victory over Portugal turned out to be just the beginning of Angola’s problems, however, as internal power struggles created one of the longest running civil wars in African history.

Since the early years of these first two recordings, Bonga has gone on to produce a number of successful and critically acclaimed albums. He toured extensively. Practically a household name in Africa and Europe, Bonga has created a highly respected body of work that is marked by the unique power of his voice and his ability to cling to his convictions no matter how staggering the opposition.

Discography:

Angola 72 (Morabeza, 1972. Reissued by Lusafrica 2621622)
Angola 74 (Morabeza 6810442-24, 1974. Reissued by Lusafrica 262192 and Tinder 42846652, 1999)
Angola 76 (Morabeza 6810865, 1976)
Racines (Playasound PS 601, 1978)
Kandandu (Chant du Monde LDK74720, 1979)
Kualuka Kueta (Playasound PS 606, 1983)
Sentimento (Chant du Monde 474643, 1985)
Angola, compilation (Playasound PS 65013, 1988)
Reflexão (Discosette, 1988)
Malembe-Malembe (Discosette, 1989)
Diaka (Discosette, 1990)
Paz Em Angola, compilation (Rounder CD5052, 1991)
Geraçôes (Discosette, 1992)
Katendu, compilation (Melodie 79567-2, 19993)
Fogo na Kanjica (Vidisco 11.80.2045, 1994)
Swinga Swinga the Voice of Angola 102% Live (Piranha PIR 1040, 1996)
Preto e Branco (Vidisco 11.81.1455, 1996)
Roça de Jindungo (Vidisco 11.80.7505, 1997)
Dendém de Açucar (Vidisco 11.80.7645, 1998)
Falar de Assim (Vidisco 11.80.7850, 1999)
Mulemba Xangola (Lusafrica 362272, 2001)
Kaxexe (Lusafrica, 2003)
Bonga Live (Lusafrica 462242, 2005)
Maiorais (Lusafrica 462252, 2006)
Bairro (2009)
Hora Kota (Lusafrica, 2011)
Recados De Fora (Lusafrica, 2016)

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Artist Profiles: Idir

Idir
Idir

Author of one of the first world music hits, Idir has been an ambassador of the Kabyl culture (Berber people inhabiting Northern Algeria) since the Seventies.

Idir, whose real name is Hamid Cheriet was born in Aït Lahcène, a Berber village in Upper-Kabylia, in 1949. This farmer’s son, raised by the Jesuits, started studying Geology and was destined for a career in the petroleum industry. In 1973, he stood in at the last moment for a famous artist on Radio Algiers and sang a lullaby. He recorded this song called “A Vava inouva” (my little father), as a single before leaving for his military service.

This Kabyl song with only vocals and guitar stands as one of the first big hits coming directly from the Maghreb, long before the success of a Khaled or a Cheb Mami. He stood for the affirmation of a definite identity, the return to the roots anchored deeply in the history of Algeria. It would be translated into seven languages. After his military service, Idir was contacted by the record company Pathé Marconi. Fans had to wait until 1976 for a first album, A Vava Inouva, which included the song “A Vava inouva”. After notable success, Idir wrote and recorded Ay Arrac Negh (to our children), an album which came out in 1979.

For this discreet man with a serious look, it was difficult to blend into the world of show biz and if he enjoyed composing, which he did for others, his stage appearances rarely satisfied him. As a result, he slipped away for about ten years nevertheless giving some recitals.

His career started up again with the release of a compilation in 1991 of seventeen songs from his first two albums. After a drawn out lawsuit against his former producer, Idir had the chance to re-record some songs like the famous “A Vava Inouva”. Backed by this recording success, he came back to the stage and performed at New Morning in Paris from February 7-9, 1992. He remained the ambassador of the Kabyl community and was now recognized as a forerunner to world music.

The following year, a new album appeared on the Blue Silver label called Les Chasseurs de lumières, where he sang about (his) predilection (themes), love, freedom and exile (which he had known since he moved to the Paris region in 1975). He introduced synthesizers alongside darbukas, flute and acoustic guitar which gives a touch of modernism. One can also hear the voice of the Breton singer Alan Stivell in the duo “Isaltiyen”. Idir performed his songs for the public at the Olympia in Paris on June 26th, 27th and 28th, 1993.

Questions of Identity

A man of conviction, Idir often participated in concerts supporting different causes. On June 22nd 1995 more than 6.000 people came to applaud the singer and his friend Khaled, initiators of the association “l’Algérie la vie” which invited them to a concert for peace freedom and tolerance. It was a triumph for the two artists who on this occasion joined the Kabyl and Arabic-speaking communities together. A few years later, Idir also took part in the concert in memory of Matoub Lounes, the Kabyl singer who was assassinated in 1998.

Idir’s record making comeback was made with Identities in 1999, a tribute album which joined numerous artists together from Manu Chao to Dan Ar Braz without forgetting Maxime Le Forestier and Scotswoman Karen Matheson for a “A vava inouva 2”, but also Gnawa Diffusion, Zebda, Gilles Servat, Geoffrey Oryema and Orchestre National de Barbes. Idir gathered here those who advocate cultural openings as well as recognition of each person’s own roots.

When Idir performed two concerts at the legendary Olympia music hall in Paris in December ’99 he was joined by an equally impressive amount of guest stars. In fact, the celebrity line-up included everyone from Frédéric Galliano to guitarist Thierry Robin and the Orchestre National de Barbes (ONB).

Idir took to the stage to defend his national identity once again at the “21ème Printemps berbère”, a celebration of Berber culture organized at Le Zénith in Paris in the spring of 2001. The Algerian star returned to the same venue on July 8th, organizing a special fund-raising concert to support the population in Kabylia when anti-government riots rocked the cradle of Berber culture in the summer of 2001. Idir was joined on stage by an impressive list of guest stars and thousands of French fans turned out to Le Zénith to show their support.

In 2007 he released La France des Couleurs (France of the Colors). This album sets itself apart with amazing collaboration pieces and lyrics. Here, Idir plays with some of the hottest names in the French hip hop and R&B scenes, including Akhenaton, Daniel Manu and Guizmo (of Tryo), Noa, Oxmo Puccino, and many more.

Discography:

A Vava Inouva (1976)
Ay arrac nneɣ (1979)
Les chasseurs de lumières (1993)
Identités (1999)
Deux rives, un rêve (2002)
Entre scènes et terres (2005)
La France des couleurs (2005)
Idir (2013)

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Artist Profiles: Umalu

Umalu is a North African Berber, born in Algeria. He grew up in Europe and currently lives in Los Angeles (United States of America). After finishing hid studies in physics, Umalu produced his first CD called Heritage of Berber music which went world wide in the net in 1999.

Since then, Umalu went on to produce music for documentaries and a new instrumental CD entitled Decadence.

Umalu has appeared in concert venues in Southern California and created a new project called Syphax named after a Berber King. His shows are visual with slide shows of exotic images of North Africa and trance, techno ethnic percussive music.

Discography:

Heritage of Berber music (1999}
Decadence
Syphax

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Artist Profiles: Souad Massi

Souad Massi
Souad Massi

Souad Massi is a Paris-based Algerian singer-songwriter. With a beautiful voice and a large palette of influences to draw from, Souad Massi is one of the most interesting new singers to come from Algeria. Influenced equally by shaabi music, French chanson, flamenco, 1960s American folk and a variety of African traditional music, this Algerian guitarist and singer makes music that is at once exotic and familiar.

Souad Massi was born August 23, 1972 in Bab en Oued, Algeria, a poor, multi-ethnic neighborhood in the hills above Algiers. Her family had come from Kabylia, the mountainous home of the Berber people, a culturally estranged population in modern Algeria. It is tempting to link Souad’s career to those of socially conscious Kabyl singer/songwriters like Matoub Lounes and Ait Mengeullet. But despite great affection for her Berber roots, Souad has always felt at peace with her blended identity, part Berber, part Arab, part Turkish and Persian-in short, Algerian. Her struggle for identity has centered on her vocation as a musician, not her ethnicity.

Souad’s father was a chartered accountant, who enjoyed chaabi music-urban street pop. Her mother preferred Arabic classical music, but also bent her ear to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. For Souad, films inspired an early passion for music. A self-described “tom boy,” she loved Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the top of the list. These films led to her to discover country and folk music, Kenny Rogers and Emmy Lou Harris, Loudon Wainwright III, and later Tracy Chapman. Her uncle played flamenco guitar, and Souad also developed a passion for that style, finding its rough, evocative vocal style an intriguing departure from the more genteel Arabic vocal music she grew up with.

When Souad succumbed to depression as a teenager, her musical brother Hassan nurtured her with music, enrolling her in guitar lessons and coaching her at home. She began writing poetry in the tradition of Arabic love poets, and soon put the two together, performing her songs informally for friends.

School took Souad out of Algiers for awhile, first to Taghit, at the edge of the Sahara, where she studied architecture, then to Tizi Ouzou, in Kabylia. Bored without the stimulation of the big city, she returned to Algiers to study at the Institute of Public Works. In the late 90s, she took a job as town planner, and played music at night. She began with a flamenco-oriented group called Trianas d’Alger, but soon left to indulge a newfound passion for hardcore rock music.

She joined a rock band called Atakor and recorded her debut cassette, Souad, with them in 1997. The cassette’s success led to radio and TV appearances. But with fame came danger. Rock groups faced fundamentalist protests and sometimes violence at festivals. At a time when musicians were being targeted for assassination, she was afraid to press her career forward. At the same time, the more she discovered her own voice as a musician, the more the broadcast media became wary of her, and began to censor her simply by neglecting her. Caught between a fearful military government and scornful fundamentalists, Souad felt trapped.

Subsequently, the fateful invitation arrived for Souad Massi to perform a concert in Paris. TV producer Aziz Smati, himself a victim of a fundamentalist shooting, had escaped to France as a paraplegic, and teamed up with radio broadcaster Mohammed Allalou to organize a festival of Algerian women at the Cabaret Sauvage. Once in France, energized in the aftermath of that life-changing debut, Souad recorded her debut CD, Raoui (Island/Wrasse), a set of stylistically adventurous and highly personal songs inspired by a tempestuous, ill-fated love affair. The songs were frankly confessional, and cast an unflinching eye on the darkness she had experienced in her life.

She mostly sang in Arabic, showcasing a voice with stark emotional power and arresting subtlety, but she also sang in French, as on “J’ai Pas du Temps,” a languid rock ballad in which she laments, “It was said to me that life was beautiful/But I find these times cruel/The black smoke took the place of the sky.” Raoui sold over 100,000 copies, and although she was still an unknown in the Middle East and North Africa, Souad Massi quickly became an Arab music pop star in Europe.

Her 2001 WOMEX appearance was a revelation, propelling Raoui (Storyteller) onto plenty of best of lists, and garnering her a nomination in the Radio 3 World Music Awards.

Souad’s unique road to success has left her free to make her own stylistic choices, rather than conform to the established genres for Algerian singers: rai, chaabi, Arab-Andalusian or classical music. On her album Deb (Island/Wrasse), Souad continues her impressive musical evolution embracing flamenco, gypsy rumba, and even Congolese music, while maintaining her identity as a highly personal songwriter. Now based in Paris, Souad Massi has had the time to let her musical sensibility mature, meet other artists and tour extensively.

Discography:

Raoui [Storyteller] (Island – Universal, 2001)
Deb (AZ – Universal & Wrasse Records Wrass 096, 2003)
Mesk Elil (Wrasse Records, 2005)
Live acoustique (2007)
Ô Houria (2010)
El Mutakallimun (Wrasse Records, 2015)

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Artist Profiles: Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha
Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha has been fusing the music of his native Algeria with the sounds of the West. Born in 1958 in Oran, Algeria, Rachid grew up in France in the poverty-stricken, working-class immigrant community that had sprung up in Lyons.

From an early age, music was his lifeline against the hopelessness of immigrant life. He sang, and also DJ’d in clubs, spinning an international blend of sounds that would presage his career. “I played a real patchwork,” he recalled, “Arabic, salsa, rap, funk, anything you could dance to.”

But the records didn’t say what was in his heart, the conflict of being an outsider, his Algerian roots pulling against the tug of European culture. So in the mid-’80s he formed a band, Carte de Sejour (Green Card). Their music burned with the fire of a young immigrant generation, exploding with the anger of punk on their best-known track, an ironic, politically-charged cover of the patriotic “Douce France.” After three years the band split up, and Rachid traveled to Los Angeles to work with producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt) on his solo debut. Barbes, the result of their collaboration, appeared internationally in 1991, at the height of Gulf War fever. In spite of glowing reviews, the subtle prejudice against all things Arabic at the time left it to sink without trace.

Older, wiser, but even more adventurous, Rachid returned in 1996 with Ole Ole, where massive club beats powered Arabic song, from the raw desert blues of rai to the kick of the Egyptian street pop shaabi, a unique, pan-North African vision melded with the programmed power of the First World.

With Diwan, in 1998, Rachid moved to a more subtle tack. The songs on the record came from his youth, work that had inspired his own music, from the pens of such greats as Dahmane El Harrachi and Nass El Ghiwane. It was, he explained, “my version of John Lennon’s Rock’n’Roll album.” Unlike the late Beatle, Rachid’s versions brought the classics very much into the modern age. Beat and samples pulsed alongside string sections and traditional instruments for an album that was a quiet musical revolution. Aided by Steve Hillage’s sympathetic and knowledgeable production, it was a masterpiece that both paid homage to the past and paved the way for the future.

On Made in Medina, his debut album for Mondo Melodia, Taha combined powerful rock with melodies of North Africa. The voice of Afrobeat star Femi Kuti, whose duet with Rachid on “Ala Jalkourn,” brings together North, and West Africa in a seamless blend of unity where voices transcend geographic borders. The album was recorded in Paris, London, and New Orleans, and was produced by veteran musician Steve Hillage.

The 2004 album, Tekitoi, was recorded in Paris, London and Cairo. Some of the themes are war, racism and corruption.

Discography:

Rhorhomanie (1984)

Deux et Demi (1986)

Barbès (Universal/Barclay, 1990)

Rachid Taha (Universal/Barclay, 1993)

Ole Ole (Mango, 1995)

Carte Blanche – Best of (1997)

Diwan (Wrasse Records, 1998)

Made in Medina (Universal Music/USA: Mondo Melodia, 2000)

Live (Ark, 2002)

Tekitoi (Wrasse Records WRASS126X, 2004)

Diwan 2 (Wrasse Records, 2006)

Rock el Casbah: The Best of Rachid Taha (Wrasse Records, 2007)

Rock N Raï (Shock / Barclay, 2008)

Bonjour (Knitting Factory Records, 2009)

Rock N Raï 2 (Shock / Barclay, 2010)

Zoom (Naive/Wrasse Records, 2013)

Web site: www.rachidtaha.com

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Artist Profiles: Pierre Bensusan

Pierre Bensusan
Pierre Bensusan

Born in Oran, Algeria, in 1957, Pierre Bensusan’s family moved to Paris when he was four years old. He began formal studies on classical piano at the age of seven and at eleven decided to teach himself guitar. Influenced in those early days by the folk revival blooming in Great Britain, France and North America, Bensusan began first to explore his own diverse musical heritage and then moved to the horizons beyond.

At seventeen he signed his first recording contract, and one year later his first album Pres de Paris (1976) won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque upon his debut at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland. Working exclusively in the unusual DADGAD tuning, Pierre has developed a bitter-sweet melodic approach that incorporates Celtic lines with Latin and North African rhythms and wordless vocals in the jazz scat tradition. International tours, innovative recordings and publications like The Guitar Book (1984) have established him as a reputable musician.

Bensusan has established himself as a compelling concert performer and a stellar contributor to festivals of folk, jazz and Celtic music, including Montreux, Cambridge, Montreal, Vancouver, Mariposa, Printemps de Bourges, Rotterdam, Vienna and Lorient. Nice Feeling is a retrospective collection from his extraordinary career so far.

Other notable activities in the current season include: invitations to major guitar festivals in Cordoba (Spain), Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Brighton (England); compositional commissions for choir and instrumental ensemble for the French cities of Poitiers and Boulogne Sur Mer; release of the “Pierre Bensusan Signature” Lowden guitar model; and a new solo album for Zebra/Warner.

With his family, Bensusan now bases himself in the French countryside, near Paris.

Discography:

Solilai (Rounder Select, 1982)

Spices (Rounder Select, 1987)

Pres De Paris (Rounder Select, 1991)

Pres De Paris/P.B. 2 (Rounder Select, 1992)

Musiques (Rounder Select, 1993)

Wu Wei (Rounder Select, 1995)

Live in Paris (Zebra Records/WEA, 1998)

Nice Feeling (Zebra Records/WEA, 1999)

Musique (BMG, 2000)

Intuite (Favored Nations, 2001)

Anthology (Dadgad Music, 2003)

An Evening With International Guitar Night (2004)

Altiplanos (Favored Nations, 2005)

Vividly (Dadgad Music, 2010)

Encore (Dadgad Music, 2013), triple album of live recordings

Website: www.pierrebensusan.com

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Artist Profiles: Naziha Azzouz

Naziha Azzouz - Photo by Laure Abouaf
Naziha Azzouz – Photo by Laure Abouaf

Naziha Azzouz was born in Algeria and moved to France at the age of 12. She started singing ancient Arab Andalusian music at a very early age and performed in Algeria, France, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

In 1998 Naziha first met Palestinian ‘ud player Adel Salameh to study Arabic music, i.e. the music of the Middle East. Since that time, Naziha and Adel have worked together and recorded 2 CDs, Nuzhu & Kanza.

Naziha formed the Trio Al Andalussiyat featuring Naziha Azzouz on vocals, bendir and riq; Imène Sahir on violin; and Sofia Lampropoulou on kanun.

Discography:

Nuzha (Arion ARN 64500, 2000)

Kanza (Enja Records CD 9137-2, 2002)

Hafla (Enja Records CD 9153-2)

Rissala (Enja Records CD 9177)

Website: www.nazihaazzouz.com

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